14 October 2008

Back To Normalcy

It was actually the promise of "a return to normalcy" that swept that paragon of Presidential virtue, Warren G. Harding, into the Oval Office and set the stage for one of the most corrupt, exciting and disastrous decades in American history.

The disaster, of course, wouldn't become plain for all to see until some years after Harding abruptly left office, his death only slightly attenuating his claim as the worst President in US history, at least until George W. Bush came along. Apart from a phenomenal amount of corruption to which he may or may not have been a witting party, there was little to distinguish Harding apart from his mediocrity, but as Nebraska Senator Roman Hruska famously declared, mediocre people were "entitled to a little representation, too."

But what put me in mind of Harding's "normalcy" schtick was the collective sigh of relief on Monday when the Dow Jones soared nearly a thousand points and investors, like children emerging from a haunted house, began to allow that they'd never really been scared and how they'd known all along that it hadn't been a real stock market crash. Or, even if it had, we'd now hit bottom and were on our way back to, erm, normalcy.

The euphoria didn't last long, and by Wednesday we were Armageddon-bound all over again, something that might/should have added an extra fillip to the presidential debate, but probably didn't. I say probably only because I saw only bits and pieces of it shown after the fact, just enough to have it made more evident than ever before that John McCain is batshit crazy, and that's putting the most charitable spin on it. He's still trying to convince us that Obama is some kind of dangerous radical, but on present form, the only danger likely to emanate from a President Obama is that of his boring us into stupefaction.

Don't get me wrong; I've come to quite like the guy. But either he's holding a lot back for fear of alienating potential voters, or beneath his carefully cultivated surface there's nothing but more surface. Nevertheless, I'll happily vote for him, which marks the first presidential election I've been able to do that since... well, I don't remember when. George McGovern in 1972, maybe, but I was on 10 hits of acid at the time, and not just any old acid, either, but a dark blue version of Orange Sunshine marketed under the moniker of Midnight Sun.

At the time it didn't strike be as the slightest bit remarkable that someone whose brain waves compared unfavorably with that morning's scrambled eggs was being allowed to help choose the leader of the Free World. I was convinced that if I pulled the lever with sufficient élan while chanting the proper mantra, "the vibes" I'd thereby send out into the system would connect to the neural grid of America's collective conscience and guarantee a McGovern victory.

I walked out of the polling station and into a warm neon rain; back at the hippie house, we waited expectantly for the results to be announced, and I at least was genuinely shocked when it took the networks a minute or two to declare Richard Nixon the winner of one of the most lopsided landslides in history. I was absolutely staggered, gobsmacked, as I'd come to say in my as yet unforeseen English future. How could it be possible that tens of millions of Americans had somehow failed to tune in to my cosmic message? I was so involved in ruminations over this mystery that I completely forgot about the vow I'd made: that in the event of a Nixon victory I would fly to Washington, douse myself in gasoline, and incinerate myself Vietnamese-monk-style in front of the White House.

Well, that was then, and look how far we've come in only 36 years! Well, at least I'm not on acid anymore. And America looks poised to elect its first president since John F. Kennedy with more than two syllables in his name!

Back here in Planet Brooklyn, a couple of developments. Okay, this isn't Brooklyn news per se, but New Jersey's Ergs are breaking up for reasons too sad to recount here. However, they've planned one last weekend of shows which are shaping up to be, well, mega, at least by any standards that generally apply to sort of semi-famous band that's only barely been heard of outside of a very specific, relatively small, but rabidly fanatic scene. At any rate, people are flying in from all over for this, and it feels a bit like the last Operation Ivy show, where 1,000 people somehow crammed into a 250-capacity Gilman to mark the end of an era that hadn't really begun yet.

So too with the Ergs, who while enjoying the passionate, mad, unreasoning devotion of several hundred pop punk devotees in the greater New York-New Jersey area, have only just begun to achieve recognition on a broader scale. They may not go on to sell a million records after they break up, as Op Ivy did (their breakup show was also their record release show), but then again, they just might. At any rate, I'm taking every opportunity to see the Ergs during the next four weeks, and you should, too.

With that in mind, I went down to the rather grandiosely named Danbro Brewery Warehouse in East Williamsburg (aka Bushwick) to see the Ergs open for the Dillinger 4. I suppose it may have been a brewery at one time, but now it just smelled like one, with five hundred or a thousand punks, hipsters, and beardos stumbling, swaying, and barreling (see, there's that brewery theme again!) around. Unfortunately I got there too late to see the Ergs, whose set was rather violently truncated when the stage collapsed underneath them, and had no interest in seeing the Dillinger 4, especially after having endured Paddy's spectacularly unfunny rock star rant about "Brooklyn cocaine" at last year's Gainesville Fest.

I stuck around anyway, mostly for the sake of socializing with the PPMB crew, who were out in force, having braved the unspeakable journey from the nether realms of Queens, but also to take in the atmosphere. The warehouse felt like an old school punk rock venue in inverted commas, slightly contrived but with a genuine frisson of danger. Not so much from the neighborhood, which might have been risk 10 or 15 years ago but is inexorably being hipsterized now, but from teh warehouse itself, which, like the stage, looked as though parts of it could collapse at any moment.

A visit from the fire marshal and/or the police could have yielded enough violations to keep promoter Todd P tied up in court through the rest of the noughties, but this event seemed sufficiently on the DL to forestall that likelihood. Among the less salubrious aspects: liquored-up fatasses jumping off of amps and the lighting tower into the crowd from an altitude of 15 feet or more, porta-potties instead of plumbing, and wholesale violation of the smoking laws despite there being a perfectly wonderful outdoor balcony from which one could not only pollute the air to one's heart's content, but also admire the rugged brick structure of the warehouse and a spectacular full moon on an impossibly warm October night. Fly in the ointment, or perhaps quite a few flies: that's also where the porta-potties were sited.

Anyway, I watched a little bit of D4; they seemed to be playing better and spending a lot less time trying to be comedians than in Gainesville, but any advantage thus gained was more than nullified by the abysmal sound system, which despite possessing sufficient volume to blow the entire assemblage halfway to Canarsie, delivered little more than a massive booming echo chamber through which one got occasional hints of guitar and vocals, but not much more. By the time the show was over, half the people I knew were outside, but a fun night nonetheless.

The reason I was late and missed the Ergs was that I was moving. Yes, again; my third apartment in less than two years in Brooklyn, and all of them on the same block. The new place is a wonderful change from the attic hovel I've been infesting for the past 13 months, but getting from there to here involved carrying everything by hand down three flights of stairs, approximately 200 feet down the street, and up another flight of stairs. I had the much-appreciated help of Nato and Danny's moving services to get my ridiculously giant desk and some other large items out of there, but the following two days it was just me, one trip at a time, each round trip involving eight flights of stairs. I estimate that the move involved approximately 50 such trips, which means that in two days I've climbed the Empire State Building nearly four times. And here I was feeling bad that I didn't get to the gym.

So now I'm settled in, but not really; my desk is here and I'm sitting at it, and the internet is working, thanks to some generous neighbor's unrestricted wireless connection, but nearly every other tangible aspect of my life is scattered somewhere on the floor around me. I have two days to put it into some sort of order before taking off for my birthday trip; the thought of coming back to see multiple piles of rubble still adorning this otherwise splendid apartment is highly dispiriting. As I moved the last couple dozen boxes and milk crates, I found myself devoutly wishing I'd thrown most of this stuff out several moves ago, and wondering when or if it will ever prove fruitful to have held on to all this junk for so many years. Well, it's here now, and so am I, and maybe in the morning I can make some sense out of it. But right now, it's off to bed, perchance to dream of little elves who will come scampering in during the night to sort it all out for me. On the off chance that they don't turn up, however, I'm going to need some rest.

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